Getting Warm... Cooling Down

The sun is beating back clouds and the mercury is rising. We are on the cusp of +40 feels-like-+50-with-the-humidity days in Hanoi.

In the spirit of summer we decided to make Paletas on the weekend. What's a paleta? Simply the Mexican version of Popsicles, but with loads of fresh ingredients and neat flavour twists like spicy pineapple or spiced tomato-tequila pops.

We were inspired by the yogurt and berry recipe from the book: Paletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Shaved Ice & Aguas Frescas. They used blackberries which I've never ever seen in Hanoi but we did have some homemade yogurt and frozen raspberries.

Ginger Spiked Raspberry and Yogurt Paletas

1/4 cup simple syrup
Squeeze of lemon juice
1 tsp or so of fine grated fresh ginger (a la microplane)
1½ cups plain unsweetened Greek-style yogurt
2 cups raspberries

Blitz first 4 ingredients in blender.

Stir or lightly blitz in raspberries.

Distribute into molds. Our recipe fit 6 of our rocket shaped popsicle molds. We had a bit left over and simply drank it as it was basically a smoothie.

Freeze and enjoy on a hot day.


The Old Fashioned With One Small Change

Nothing is quite as classy as an Old Fashioned.  Simplicity at its best. However like many simple things it's amazing how many people completely mess it up.  After many samples at a range of establishments, it seems the failing of an Old Fashioned is that the bartender does not allocate enough time to muddle the sugar.  The results is a cocktail that is not quite balanced, the sweetness increases the more you drink it, and then you end up with a mouthful of sugar granules at the very end.  Ick.

We propose a simple solution: simple syrup.  Why do the work to muddle sugar with water when you can let heat do it for you and in a larger quantity?  Especially when other cocktails require the use of simple syrup from the start, for instance another classic: the Tom Collins. Keep bottle of simple syrup in the fridge and when it's cocktail time grab it and go.  It speeds up the process significantly, evenly mixes sugar to the booze and no granules.

One Minute Old Fashioned

1 tsp simple syrup
2 oz whiskey
Dash angostura bitters

Stir ingredients with ice, strain, garnish with orange twist or maraschino cherry.


Sauerkraut DIY

There are just some things, ok a lot of things, I have always bought from the store. Despite the German lineage sauerkraut is one of them. I even had Mom and Dad ship me some from Canada but no more.

Turns out, it's ridiculously easy to make and cheap.

The recipe

1 kg Cabbage
1.5 tbsp Sea Salt

Yep that's it! Have fun:)

Ok, ok, a bit more information.

Make sure your cabbage is clean and trim out core. Reserve a few leaves from the outside. Chop up into appropriately size pieces. As you place cabbage in a bowl sprinkle with salt as go (alternate cabbage, salt, and so on). Toss with clean hands when done for good measure. Let sit for thirty or so minutes. Then, take cabbage by the handful and squeeze it (again, clean hands), capturing the liquid that is released into your fermentation container and placing cabbage into it as well.

Continue this until you've squeezed all the cabbage and it now sits in the container with the liquid. Using your fist, press it down firmly. Place the whole leaves you reserved earlier on top. These will help to form a bit of a barrier between the sauerkraut and any scum that may form in the container above as it ferments.

Close container. In Vietnam lots of people ferment mustard leaves and other greens so its quite easy to get a hold of one of these containers which is tailor made for the job. As you can see, the plastic insert screws down to keep the greens submerged in the brine. You want to have a device like this or create something similar. Let sit on the counter and watch the liquid increase. There needs to be enough liquid to cover the greens generously. However this might take a few hours to happen. Let the salt do its magic.

Now wait.

Put it in a dark place and let ferment. Check on it after a few days (this depends on the temperature of the room, warmer = sooner). Sniff it. Does it smell sour? No? Return to cozy place. Check again in a couple days. Does it smell sour? Yes. Ok time to taste but first a few pointers:

- carefully lift out lid as you want to avoid cross contamination (sometimes mould will grow at top of container).
- look at pickling liquid, it should be clearish.  Milky strands are not good.
- lift the whole leaves only a little to extract a couple pieces taste (you may need to recover).
- feel the pieces with your fingers. Slippery is not ok.
- taste.
- is it to your taste? The great thing about making it at home is you can make it as sour as you would like. Return to the cupboard for for time fermenting if you would like it more sour.

When it's done extract the top leaves and discard. Use a spoon to move finished sauerkraut into a jar or container. Do not scrape up the sides on the fermenting container (mandate: avoid scum at all costs). Ladle some extra brine liquid on top of sauerkraut to cover it. We then put ours in the fridge to stop the fermentation process.


This post and basic recipe would not have been possible without this lovely guidebook: Wild Fermentation.


Whiskey at the Bar

This year, perhaps instigated by the lovely Bruichladdich tasting we went to in the fall in Edmonton, has been all about the whiskey.

This last weekend we made a bit of an investment at one of our locals. It's a new place on Xuan Dieu and more often than not we seem to end up there to round off a night and enjoy a glass or two of whiskey. However last weekend was different. We did some maths and realized that it was a far better deal to buy a bottle and shelf it (in fact it was such a good deal that instead of buying the 12 year old, we went for the 18, so in the end not really a cost saver but a taste increaser). It's quite common in Asia for finer establishments to offer bottle service and they will hold it for up to three months, parked and ready for you to come and enjoy. So invest we did.

The bottle in question: Bunnahabhain 18. Another fine Islay creation.


In Singapore and Writing About Saigon

I've been meaning to blog about a great food tour we went on last month while in Saigon (HCMC) for the weekend.  The only problem is that it apparently took me being in another great food city to finally get around to it (and yes being on holidays helps).

A colleague of mine from work, adverse to eating land meat, found Saigon Street Eats evening tour that featured seafood, seafood, snails, seafood, some insects and the infamous trung vit lon.  We had crab twice (to start and to end the evening), mussels, scallops, clams, crickets, oysters, conch, two different size snails and more.

This tour was appealing because it was very different from our last street food tour in Saigon with XO Tours (also great fun).  Highly recommended!

The array at our first stop

Lemongrass clams.

Snails so small you needed to use a safety pin to get them out.

Crickets!  They tasted nutty. Pretty good :)

Also first time trying conch.  The meat was quite toothsome and it reminded me of bamboo / razor clams.

 As for Singapore... we've been binging on dumplings.  It's a thing we're doing.  Highlights in a month or so at my current rate.


The Antithesis to Storebought Lasagna

Beloved lasagna.  The easy dinner for all.  Unless you start to get stupid about it like we did.  We turned an easy dish into something more convoluted by making almost everything from scratch.  However, the results merit the time involved.  Sublime.

The idea to make most elements from scratch started last year.  Rob couldn't find lasagna noodles at the store and like any reasonable professional cook said "F%$^ this" and made pasta noodles.  He even rolled out the noodles by hand.  Dedication to a cause that's for sure.  Early in our Hanoi days he also couldn't find good ground meat, but really why bother with mince when you can braise a chunk of meat?  Along the way we've also learned how to make ricotta so out went store bought.  Outside of the Parmesan cheese we make all the elements in our kitchen.  Making lasagna like this only happens a couple times each year as it is an all day kind of thing.  Great rain / snow day activity.  Added bonus of keeping cold Hanoi apartment warm in winter.

Here's our most current version:

1. Start with the noodles.  

Making the dough can be done early in the day or better yet use the remains from a double batch recipe pre made and froze a couple weeks ago.  We use Thomas Keller's 7 Yolk Pasta Dough recipe.  Save rolling out the noodles for the assembly stage much later in the day.  Thankfully we bought back our Kitchen Aid and pasta attachment from Canada in our luggage the in fall (gone are the days of Rob rolling it out by hand).

2. Move on to the Ricotta.

This is so easy to do I basically guarantee that you won't buy ricotta anymore.

1L Whole Milk
15g 8% White Vinegar (2.5 tsp)
7.5g Salt (1.5 tsp)

Combine all ingredients in a saucepot.  Simmer until curdles form (don't stir it!).  Let sit and cool for 10-15 min.  Gently ladle out the curds into cheese cloth.  Let drain until desired consistency.  Spoon into jars and refrigerate.

This yields enough ricotta for one 6 serving lasagna dish, with one cheese layer and some on top.  If you are using a larger lasagna dish (family sized) you'll probably want to double.  Having leftovers of this is never a problem.

Curds forming

Ladle curds gently in cheesecloth over strainer

In jars!

3. Braise the Meat

I strongly feel that this component is what really makes this lasagna stand out.  We don't use ground meat like most versions.  What we do use is an all day slow braised pork shoulder.  So good.  You could use beef if you prefer.

250 g tomato
4 garlic cloves fine dice
1 carrot diced
1 stick celery diced (optional)
1/2 onion dice
1/2 tsp whole peppercorns
2 juniper berries (optional)
1 star anise
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup white wine (red if using beef)
1 kg pork shoulder, fat cap and rind on (scored)
Rock salt - rubbed into scores and meat
Pepper - rubbed into scores and meat

Ready to go into the oven

Braise at a low temperature (300F) for a long time (4-6 hours), uncovered is ok.  When the pork is done keep all the liquid and veggies (extract whole spices) and add to tomato sauce.  Remove the excess fat from the pork and shred the meat.  Snack on crispy pork rind.  I did.

4. Make your sauce base

In the step you basically want to create a standard rustic tomato sauce.  Every cook has their own variation.  Ours starts with beautiful tomatoes we picked up at Chợ Yên Phụ.

1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 big onion diced
2 garlic cloves fine dice
1/4 cup red or white wine
500g tomatoes rough chop
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 chili
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp pepper
1 bay leaves
Salt TT

This is the version we used today.  Keep in mind this always changes depending on the day or the cook.  You may need to add sugar to balance the acidity of the tomatoes. 

Follow normal process for making tomato sauce.  Saute onions and garlic, deglaze with wine.  Add tomatoes and spices.  Simmer.  When pork is complete add pork braise liquid to this.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

You can leave this rustic or blitz the make smoother. Add shredded meat to sauce.

5. Assemble  (finally!)

Roll out your noodles, we did them to thickness "5" on the Kitchen Aid but agreed we should have gone thinner.   We start with a little sauce on the bottom (just enough to get it wet, no big chunks), noodles, full sauce layer, cheese layer, full sauce layer, then cheese topping with a few spoons of sauce on top.

Our cheese layer and topping is the following mixture:

Parmesan Cheese
Whipping Cream

We combine these to make a loose easy to spread mixture.  I don't miss using mozzarella with this combination but feel free to put some on top if you have it on hand. 

Bake this badass lasagna in the oven (375 F - 400 F) until golden brown and bubbly.

Amaze your friends and family with your culinary prowess.  In all likelihood probably family only as I don't think we've ever shared this with friends.  Sorry friends.

This picture does not do the results justice.  Apologies for wacky white balance.


Nogcakes 1.0

It doesn't matter where you are, when the holiday season arrives there are always some nostalgic food items you want.  However, when living in Ha Noi popping by the store to pick up eggnog isn't an option.  So we did a little research and got cooking.

Turns out eggnog is a snap to make.

We followed Alton Brown's recipe, in particular using the cooked version as the chicken poop covered eggs here don't instill sanitary confidence and to top it off one person at the Christmas Eve festivities is pregnant.  We also got kind of lazy and didn't bother with the whipped egg white component.  The process was simple and resulted in a very creamy 'nog which we spiked with readily available rum instead of Alton's suggested bourbon. 

Check out the recipe here:

However there was one small glitch in an otherwise good plan.  Our party hosts requested we make about three litres of eggnog.  We quadrupled the recipe and the yield was over 4 litres.  Even more depending on amount of rum added.  That left us with almost 1.5 litres at home as extra.  Eggnog is great, but you can only really drink so much of the rich stuff.  Really - it's essentially drinking ice cream.  What to do with so much eggnog?

This morning we decided to try adapting our pancake recipe to use up some of the leftover 'nog.  We kept the dry ingredients the same, and simply added eggnog in lieu of the regular wet components.  The mixture was somewhat thick, so we added more rum to smooth it out to pancake batter consistency.   Milk would have probably been a better option but we were all out so the rum went in.

The recipe

1.5 cups AP flour
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
1.5 tsp baking powder

1 cup spiked eggnog
1/2 cup rum (or so)

We fried two pancakes up and stop to test them in consideration that they may need a fresh egg added to help with rising (as our eggnog was the cooked variety).  Turns out that the baking powder give the batter enough rising action on its own.

Results: the pancakes were clearly eggnog reminiscent with the nutmeg coming across loud and clear.  The rum was also a strong flavour component, in hindsight perhaps a little too overpowering. The pancakes browned nicely in the pan, but lacked the crispy edges I like possibly due to the fact that we omitted the melted butter from the original recipe (thinking that the cream in the eggnog would act as the fat component).

Future revisions: milk instead of rum to thin batter to proper consistency.  Add in melted butter as per regular pancake recipe (3 tbsp).